Show Me Climate - Climate Causes

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Previously we've discussed the difference between weather and climate and explained that global temperatures are warming at an unnaturally rapid pace. Next, I want to discuss the why. Because in science there has to be a reason. A cause to the effect.

Let’s look at a few different possibilities.

We begin with our heating source. The source of life and energy to this planet: the Sun. The Sun does go through solar fluctuations and at times it emits higher amounts of infrared radiation, which could warm our world. However, since satellites began recording the Sun’s output in 1978, the solar irradiance has actually gone down slightly. Climatologists say the Sun cannot plausibly account for more than 10 percent of the 20th century’s warming.

Is it due to volcanic activity? The data suggests it is not due to volcanic activity. Human industries emit about 100 times more CO2 than volcanoes, and besides, volcanoes emit other molecules like sulfate that can actually help to cool the atmosphere for a couple years.

What about land use and deforestation? When trees are leveled the Sun will reflect more directly off the Earth’s surface and this can actually lead to more of a cooling effect. Of course, less trees means less oxygen production and less CO2 extraction.

What about more Ozone? Ozone high in the atmosphere will help to block harmful UV Rays but Ozone pollution closer to our surface can trap heat and lead to warmer temperatures near the surface, not to mention harmful air quality for human life. However, Ozone pollution likely plays only a minute role in our rapidly warming world.

What about carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases such as methane, water vapor and nitrous oxide? Since pre-industrial times, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by almost 50%, from 208 PPM to 412 PPM in August 2019. We haven’t seen these levels of CO2 for 3.6 million years according to NOAA. Today’s rate of increase is more than 100 times faster than the increase that occurred when the last ice age ended. This is the most important long-lived "forcing" of climate change. And yes, it’s because of us humans.

Moreover, these greenhouse gases don’t just disappear once they’re put into the atmosphere; some of them can stick around for a while. Think of water vapor or droplets, like a cloud for example. Water vapor can actually stay in the atmosphere for about 7 days until it rains down to the surface. So what about carbon dioxide. Well, it can stay in the atmosphere for…wait for it…100 days. Woops, no, I mean 100 months… NOPE. YEARS. Carbon Dioxide can stay in our atmosphere for 100+ years…in fact, some of it may take thousands of years to leave the atmosphere…and we’ve been releasing A LOT of it into our atmosphere for a while now. All of this goes to show that rapid climate chance cannot be stopped overnight. It is going to take some time to calm things do; it won’t happen in most of our lifetimes. But, changes we make today will determine what the world looks like for future generations. We are the ones who decide what the future will look like.


This story is part of SHOW ME CLIMATE, an ongoing KOMU 8 series devoted to ethically explaining climate change without politics using fact-based data to deliver important information about our world and the Show-Me State.